I am currently employed as the IT director at a large public school district in California, and I am completing my doctorate in organizational leadership. I have been thinking that I’d like to transition into a CIO or CTO position with a company in the area.

However, I’m concerned that I might be considered less than marketable because my background is in education (government/nonprofit), not the private sector. I’m afraid companies might think I would not understand a profit-focused organization—which, of course, I would. In my current position, I’m working for a $110 million-organization and control over $1 million of the budget myself, so I have broad experience. 

I have no idea how to go about doing an effective job of positioning myself for where I want to be. How should I get started? Would it be more efficient to seek the services of a career counselor? Would it be better to contact headhunters (and if so, which ones deal with executive level positions)?

Whenever anyone writes and tells me they want to stay where they are and get a new job, the first thing that comes to my mind is the necessity for lots of time spent researching the companies in the area. Since you want to stay in the region of California that you now live in, your job options are limited to that area.

The first thing you need to do is build a comprehensive database of all companies in the area that are large enough to need a CIO or CTO. Make sure that you don’t overlook companies that aren’t large enough yet, but are growing quickly. They will soon need someone to help them with their IT planning.

Your database should contain the obvious: name, address, contact info, and so forth. For each company, you should also find out as much information as you can about the company’s current IT setup, and the name of the person who would hire you, if you can find it.

If there are regional business fairs in your area, you might be able to pick up the beyond-the-obvious information by visiting these events. IT networking events are also good places to pick up news and details about a particular company. The company Web site may have some helpful information as well, as may regional business publications.

While you are doing your research, pay attention to your gut instincts.For one reason or another, a few companies might stand out from the rest as places that you would like to work. It could be the kind of work the company does, its reputation in its field, or even the employee benefits. Put any company that catches your attention at the top of your list of possibilities.

Show off your skills
As to your concerns about how to position yourself, you might not have to do much, except to make sure that the prospective employer understands how much your current job is like the ones you are seeking. I’ll bet that many people don’t know what an IT director for a major school district does. They will probably think that you spend your day picking out educational software and little else.

To make sure your resume isn’t automatically rejected because it doesn’t say CIO or CTO at the top, put together a resume that lists what you have done and details the general IT functions you do. Then you can put the job title and chronological information at the end of the resume.

This kind of resume is called a functional resume, and there are lots of resources on the Web for learning how to write these kinds of resumes. Quintessential Careers, a recruiting firm located in Florida, has a lot of information about these kinds or resumes and some samples.

Don’t count out nonprofits
If you choose your prospective employers carefully and create an effective functional resume, your nonprofit background should not prevent you from landing a job at a for-profit concern. However, you might also consider moving to another nonprofit, such as a university or research institute. Look for a job that is challenging to you, and don’t worry about whether it is nonprofit or for-profit. There are some interesting jobs out there in both domains.

I did a quick search of CIO/CTO job openings in California and found one with the Salk Institute that is typical of the kind of challenge you can find at some nonprofit organizations. The job opening is for a CIO who would report to the executive vice president and who would manage the organization’s IT departments. The job qualifications sound a lot like yours: someone with “10 years of academic and/or research experience, five years or more senior management experience, strong analytical and leadership abilities, excellent communication skills, and the ability to smoothly interface with scientific and administrative personnel. Advanced degree preferred.”

You asked about a technical recruiter and it never hurts to have someone else helping you in your job search, so yes, talk to a few and see what they say. Many are so busy these days that they can’t give you personalized attention, so make sure you find someone who will. Also, be certain it’s a firm that does mostly executive IT placements. Make sure, too, that the recruiter understands that you will not relocate; otherwise you might get pressured to do interviews all over the country.

Finally, don’t be surprised if you are not immediately offered the CIO or CTO spot in a major organization. These jobs can be nebulous yet highly visible positions, so HR departments are loath to hire people who do not already have these titles. As long as you get a job that has you reporting directly to a CIO or CTO, you are headed in the right direction.

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